How do you answer the socialization question?

Q: Do you have any articles or information I can share that will let my family and friends know that my kids will be socialized even though we homeschool?

homeschool socialization

A. Nope.

I mean, I can give you all kinds of information about the socialization process and how homeschooled children generally grow up to be well-adjusted adults. But will any of it convince your family and friends that you have not joined some fringe cult that will forever scar your children? Probably not. I’m not saying they won’t change their minds over time. It’s just that deeply held beliefs about how children should be socialized are not usually affected by articles and anecdotes.

The socialization process itself makes these conversations difficult. See, your family and friends have been “socialized” to have certain views on how a child should be raised in order to conform to societal norms and become a productive member of society. These beliefs are rarely critically evaluated. They are passed from one generation to another by how we were parented, by how we were educated, by the media we have consumed and by the friendships we have maintained. They are not taught explicitly and they are not evaluated critically.

And that’s the real problem. Everyone knows to ask the question, but few know what it actually means. Have you ever read Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? In it, they design a supercomputer to answer the question of life, the universe and everything only to find out they don’t understand the question. It’s kind of like that. Except that we designed and supported an entire education system to support the socialization process without truly understanding what socialization actually is. Even many homeschoolers don’t seem to have that firm of a grasp on the real implications of the term. If you ask, “What about socialization?” and they answer, “My kids have plenty of social opportunities!” they are not really answering the question. Socializing and socialization are two very different things.

So what is socialization?

According to sociologists and anthropologists (who spend a great deal of their careers studying how humans are socialized across cultures and within subcultures), socialization may be defined as:

the process by which culture is learned; also called enculturation. During socialization individuals internalize a culture’s social controls, along with values and norms about right and wrong.

It is a process which shapes all of us. It affects how worldviews develop, what we perceive as right or wrong, and provides the foundation of our social order. And yet we almost never really talk about it. At least not until you tell someone you homeschool and they blurt out, “What about socialization?”

As homeschoolers, I think we should stop answering this question by citing the social opportunities we afford our children and get to the heart of what we are really discussing. That means answering the question with another question.

Who should teach children right from wrong?

Most people’s first instinct is not to say, “Why the government, of course!” So why is it that the default institution Americans seem to trust most is the public school system? Frankly, it’s because we’ve been well-socialized.

Successful socialization can result in uniformity within a society.  If all children receive the same socialization, it is likely that they will share the same beliefs and expectations.  This fact has been a strong motivation for national governments around the world to standardize education and make it compulsory for all children.  Deciding what things will be taught and how they are taught is a powerful political tool for controlling people. Process of Socialization, How we we acquire our cultures, world views and personalities, by Dr. Dennis O’Neal

Standardized education . . . compulsory for all . . . a powerful political tool. Yes, this is what the public school sytem represents. That’s why there is a constant battle between the left and the right for control of the curriculum. It’s why eveyone asks, “What about socialization?” without really even knowing what it means.

So who should have the power of socialization?

Education is never  neutral.

It is impossible for me to think about education without considering the question of power, of asking the question: In favor of whom or what do we promote education? ~Paulo Freire

That brings me to my real point. Socialization is exactly why we homeschool. I view the family as the primary institution for the socialization of children and therefore the family is the most natural place for children to be raised and educated. The methodology we follow, the curriculum we select, the field trips we take, the church we attend and the media we consume are chosen for a purpose.

But your friends and family probably aren’t ready for all that all at once. Throw it to them all at once and they will know that you have joined a fringe cult. Because to homeschool is to stage a revolt. It may be small, but never underestimate its significance. So we are back to not really having anything that will change their minds.

Except one thing: their love for you and your family.

If they truly care about you and your family (and their constant nagging about socialization may be an issue of control, but it can also be an expression of love), they will notice. In time, they will come to see that your children are not living up to the stereotypes of the unsocialized homeschooler. Perhaps they will have to navigate some bullying situations at school. They may never fully agree, but the horror will lessen. In their minds, your decision to homeschool will go from YOU ARE GOING TO RUIN YOUR CHILD to I Can’t Imagine Doing That to Yeah, I kinda get it. And maybe, if you are patient and they have time to get used to a new idea, they might even come to understand and even support your decision.

Because we can overcome our biases and stereotypes with time and positive experiences. Love is a motivating factor where reason often fails. So go ahead and prepare yourself with all the arguments. They help you with your confidence in the face of sometimes overwheling opposition. But present it to your loved ones in small bites over time. Let your friendship be the tool that drops their defenses so that they can slowly come to accept that this, too, is OK.

Who knows? Maybe some day they will even ask you about how to get started homeschooling. Stranger things have happened.

Homeschooling in the popular culture

Sunday night, the children and I sat down to watch a movie on Hulu since we have no television (and no real interest in football, anyway.)  On the lineup?  Princess, because I’ve had about all the Flipper and Fudge I can take.  The plot doesn’t really matter.  Suffice it to say, she doesn’t get out much, having spent almost her entire life in this castle.  And it doesn’t take long for the writers to invoke our culture’s one great symbol of isolation:

Rumor has it, she was homeschooled.

Being a princess, you sort of automatically think of governesses and tutors, for what sort of princess is properly homeschooled?  But nothing says locked-away-in-a-tower quite like homeschooled, so homeschooled she was.  And seriously, how else would lines like “I don’t socialize much,” and “Can you tell I’m not used to this?” (referring to, uh, having a conversation) make any sense?

Now we homeschool.  Locked away in the west tower, looking out over the kingdom and unable to have any part in it.  I asked my children what they thought about the comment, but the negative undertone passed by them unnoticed.

Of course she was homeschooled, mom.  She doesn’t have time for school with all those mythological monsters to take care of.

So I don’t have to worry about what subliminal messages they are being fed, just yet.  It all makes sense within the context of their own experience and beliefs about what homeschooling is and is not.

But the stereotypes are heavy on my mind as I look around at nearby churches.  It is a long drive in to Lincoln for worship, long enough to negate any real participation in the church community there.  When our commitments are through, I hope to move to a local church where we can be part of an active community.

I’d never really thought about it before.  I know people who have had difficulty in their home churches due to homeschooling, but Lincoln is big enough that it just isn’t that hard to move to another church.  The pickings are slim, out here, and somehow, we’re going to just have to make things work if we want to worship in our own community.

I like the idea of that, but I guess we shall see how it plays out once we begin actually visiting churches.

Thoughts of a secular German homeschooler on the asylum case

The story of how the Romeike’s, a German homeschooling family, was granted asylum by a judge in Tennessee has made quite a few waves, with reports in Time, Education Week, Forbes, The Washington Post, not to mention blogs.  I’ve seen a nearly constant stream of updates in Twitter as yet another circle of people I follow learn the news and pass it on.

Homeschooling, it seems, may have finally been defined as a basic human right as well as a particular social group by an American court.  HSLDA says they took the case partially in hopes of influencing public opinion in Germany.  It certainly has spurred the national debate, with the story hitting major newspapers, television, radio and the German blogs are on fire with the discussion.

I wanted to provide a slightly different perspective on the issue, with the thoughts of a secular German homeschooler/unschooler who currently has children in the German public schools.  The translation is my own.

Thoughts on the Romeikes:

The WDR (Translator’s note: West German Radio, German public broadcasting) holds a team meeting, One of the topics:  The Romeike Family.  The current WDR editor asks whether one can be skeptical of the Christian views.  I, like the conversation partner who spoke with the WDR, think yes, one may.  BUT no one, because of his beliefs or because he represents a minority, should have to leave this country, because enough other families know that things aren’t the best with our own schools.

“Why shouldn’t we allow home education in Germany, where perhaps only a couple thousand would take this option?” were the thoughts posed to the WDR.  The answer came quickly.  The editor said only two words, “If that.”

Yes, if only a few thousand families were to home educate.  If only a third of these did so for Christian reasons.  A strong country should respect its minorities and not suppress them.  Because most Germans love their land and should be supported.  The editor also took these thoughts in his meeting.

I’ve been at “learning at home” for almost six years with my oldest son Manuel, whom many of you know.  For almost two years, he has been learning almost fully alone.  The first years were also arduous:  Considering what needed to be learned, the search for materials, the preparation and follow-up, the learning alongside.  It was also expensive, in two regards:  all the books to buy, supplemental materials, one tinkers, works, holds animals, plants and visits museums and other institutions–everything for education.  And one pays court costs in order to be clear of penalties and fines.  It was also a very beautiful time and it is still now, because Manuel has become an independent, self-possessed young person–like many free learners I have come to know.  Most do it for reasons very different from the Romeikes, the authorities however proceed the same: Fines and penalties and finally comes the youth welfare office, which tries to compel the children to school with threats.

Now my youngest two sons go to school–many of their best friends are unschoolers and homeschoolers.  They go to school, because that is what one does, because they can and are successful and–and because they may learn at home what they do not receive in school.  Without challenge at home, without support for their interests, the education in the school would be insufficient.  I was raised Christian, but am of the opinion that my children should decide for themselves which beliefs they would like to have and was always dissatisfied with the religious instruction in the schools.  Therefore, my sons go to Ethics.  (Translator’s note:  Religious education is compulsory in Germany, generally Protestant in the north and Catholic in the south.)

Today in the school is a participatory concert, a minister will come, he will sing with the children.  In the first two school hours.  Normally in this time, core subjects are taught.  Normally after that,  one of my children has PE, which is canceled for the day; a substitute teacher will keep the children busy.

We must pay 2 Euro per child for the minister’s concert, we received a parent letter which stated that the children of the first grades would participate in the concert as a required event.  We were not asked how we felt about that.

I asked my children if I should ask the teachers what the Ethics children were to do in that time–and whether they would actually like to go.  My younger son gave the answer: “But Mama, we’re singing the songs of Noah’s Ark, we’ve been practicing.  EVERYONE’S going.”  We’re a democratic household, had the boys said they wouldn’t like to go, it would have to be considered how the school could accommodate the children.  So it was naturally also simple, they wanted to participate, so they will participate.

I had no more words after that for the statements of my children, I had to reflect on that.  Clearly, today they have gone there.  It is sure that it will be fun for them.  But I have understood what persuades Christian homeschoolers like the Romeikes to leave this country, although I find it unfortunate.  We still have a constitution, with parental rights and freedom of belief.  I have tried to grant this freedom of belief to my children.  I hold to the law and my children attend a state school, which also has nice aspects, because in that time I can work and have time for my children in the afternoons.

But–today the state, represented by the primary school, determines that my children are required to compensate and accompany a minister for a concert and prior to this, the school successfully proselytised them and taught them subjects of faith without my knowledge.

My children are strong children and tell everything at home and we will talk about it and answer the questions that come up.  But what about the children that have a home where parents do not have this time–because there is too little money and both parents must work all day?  What about the children who may not be able to bring their questions about new beliefs home to their parents?  Does the state really have the responsibility to determine in which Christian beliefs my children should be brought up?

After the Romeike’s asylum proceedings, the state, the schools and the teachers should reflect what their purposes are.  Above all that, while the press explains that Germans have fled to the USA for their freedom of belief and were granted asylum, today Christians, Muslims and children from other religions sat in an elementary school gymnasium and participated in a concert with a minister, the exact contents of which were previously unknown to us parents.

I wish the Romeike family well, and may Germany go thoughtfully into the day…


And indeed, what are the purposes of the state in education? Preparation for a global economy and socialization, the latter of which has significant parallels with the “parallel societies” argument Germany has used to support it’s persecution of homeschooling families.  That is also why I think it is important to get the answer to the ubiquitous question “What about socialization?” right.  We as homeschoolers are held in the middle of our own national conversation and while I do not foresee us seeking asylum abroad any time soon, I do believe how we answer this with friends and strangers may have a greater long term impact than all our legislative efforts.

I am happy to see this has sparked quite a bit of conversation in Germany.  It is one thing to hold that “children should go to school” and quite another to be confronted with the consequences of deciding not to, which at times leads to the decision to face losing your children or fleeing the country.  And while many have tried to make this about religion, Corinna makes it clear that your religious beliefs are irrelevant when the state discovers you are homeschooling.

What do you think about asylum being granted for homeschoolers fleeing Germany?


Other blogs discussing the decision:

Why Homeschool
The Teacher
The Daily Salty

A little homeschool-style socialization

Seated around our table with five of her friends, Mouse celebrated her eleventh birthday.

  • One is two years younger than she. One is three years older. The other three are her age.
  • All five are Christian. Only three attend our church.
  • Three are homeschooled. Two attend public school.
  • One lives down the street. Four live thirty minutes or more away.
  • One is Hispanic. One has enough Native American in her that you can tell. The other three are white.

And this in an area that is 91.4% white.

And I wonder, for all the concern about how homeschooled children will learn to appreciate diversity when raised in the bubble we have supposedly manufactured for them, how many children truly select friends who are so diverse?

We note how many opportunities homeschooled children have to play with others. We note that children do not learn to value others by sitting quietly next to them. We note that the playground is little more than a miniature stage for all our social ills.

We don’t like to talk so much about the challenges of giving our children the opportunity to develop friendships. Real, close, lasting friendships as opposed to numerous polite interactions with other children in an ever-rotating cycle of activities. Maybe that is because it isn’t a problem for many, but a number of homeschoolers I have talked to have sympathized readily with the need to be intentional in this area.

As I passed out scones, I thought that maybe that isn’t all bad. In school, you are surrounded by children. You have the option of forming bonds with others like you and building distinct barriers to keep those who are different away. With scarcity, however, comes a willingness to set aside superficial barriers such as race, income, location, etc., in favor of fulfilling the social needs every human being has.

When your class is 90% white, you notice the one Hispanic girl. Outside of that context, however, when you just want someone to play with, you are much more likely to notice that she is nice.

On socialization and learning where we fit in the world

Hey, did you know we’re Mexican?

says the little girl at craft table at the library.  She couldn’t have been older than six.  Her little friend across from her dropped her scissors, mouth agape.

Don’t you call me that!

She was clearly insulted and the table fell silent, all eyes on the offender.  She averted her eyes, but there was no place to go.  She and her two friends had been told to stay there and color and stay she did.  Just before hurling this horrendous insult, she had been happily counting and singing . . . in Spanish.  Clearly, neither she nor anyone at the table had any particular issue with the country of their obvious heritage until it was named.


After a long moment of silence, the third girl leaned in and whispered, “It’s called Hispanic.  We’re Hispanic.”  With that, the tension eased and they went back to their playful chatter about school and television and friends.  They forgot about that dirty word.


She may as well have said, “Hey, did you know we were spics?”  Or !@#$%^&*.  Or chinks.  Or any number of racial slurs.  I can’t help but wonder how a child growing up Hispanic in an Hispanic home with Hispanic friends, watching Dora the Explorer, who happily sings songs in Spanish in the library learns that Mexican is a dirty word.

This is socialization.  Learning what is “other,” labeling it and trying to make it conform.  This is the “leavening effect of democracy” which compulsory schooling offers.  It does not teach us to value difference, but to conform.  It does not teach us to handle conflict, but to submit to the capricious and cruel tendencies of small children with inadequate supervision.

Humans are fundamentally social creatures, and I would be the last to argue against teaching our children how to function within our social groups.  Socialization is a natural part of being human.  But how do we best teach this to our children?  Seated in neat rows while the teacher talks?  Or perhaps better seated in circles?  On the playground while an adult with a whistles chats with an aid and watches for any grievous rule breaks?  Or within the context of the family where true, selfless love can be experienced alongside daily modeling and guidance specific to each child’s needs?